In resigning from the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Bill Mechanic, the former Fox studio chief, has penned a long list of serious problems that he charges the organization has failed to address. “We have failed,” he wrote in an April 12 letter to Academy president John Bailey in which he formally resigned.
Mechanic, who had been one of three representatives of the Academy’s executives branch on the 54-person board, emphasized, “I feel I have failed the organization. I feel we have failed the organization.” He went on to share his view that the Academy has not addressed a range of issues — from inclusion (“this is the Industry’s problem far, far more than it is the Academy’s”) to the Oscars telecast (“a long and boring show”). He also charges that the still-under-construction Academy Museum is “ridiculously over its initial budget and way past its original opening date,” and — in a thinly veiled barb directed at the administration of Academy CEO Dawn Hudson — he argues that the departure “over the past seven years” of a significant number of full-time Academy employees “seems more like a ‘purge’ to stifle debate.”
Mechanic, 67, led Fox from 1994-2000, received an Oscar nomination as a producer of Hacksaw Ridge and co-produced the 82nd Academy Awards ceremony in 2010. Following an elective hiatus after his first term on the board, he was re-elected to a second three-year term in 2016.
In his letter, Mechanic argues that the governing structure of the Academy itself has become problematic. Academy presidents are elected for one-year terms, and while a president can be elected to as many as four successive one-year terms, he says the process “creates instability” and has allowed the CEO, who oversees day-to-day operations of the organization,” to accumulate “much broader and far reaching” powers, with “results that are erratic at best.” He also contends that the board has grown too large, which “makes decision-making difficult.”
Mechanic further laments that “we have allowed the Academy to be blamed for things way beyond our control and then try to do things which are not in our purview (sexual harassment, discrimination in the Industry).” He added in reference to the “Standards of Conduct” that the Academy implemented in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct scandal, as well as the recent claims of sexual misconduct that were made against Bailey, and which were then dismissed, “We decided to play Moral Police and most probably someone inside the Academy leaked confidential information in order to compromise the President.”
After news of Mechanic’s resignation became public earlier on Tuesday, he declined comment when contacted by The Hollywood Reporter, and when later told that THR had obtained a copy of the letter, once again declined comment.
Earlier in the day, the Academy issued a statement saying, “The Academy thanks William Mechanic for his five years of service on the Board of Governors, where he represented the members of the Executives Branch.” An Academy spokesperson declined further comment regarding the publication of Mechanic’s letter, the full text of which appears below.
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April 12, 2018
There’s a moment when if you fail to make an impact, the right thing to do is make for the exits. After Saturday’s meeting, I’m at that moment and I respectfully must resign from the Board of Governors.
I have a great love and respect for the Academy. I grew up loving movies and watching the Academy Awards, never dreaming of being a nominee, producing the show, and certainly not becoming a Governor. Eventually all of these things actually came to pass and it was exciting when I was originally elected to the Board, serving with so many distinguished legends side-by-side in a non-hierarchical environment.
I left the Board after one term, but decided to run again a couple of years ago when many of the decisions of the Board seemed to me to be reactive rather than considered. I felt I could help provide some perspective and guidance.
But it’s exceedingly clear to me since returning to the Board that things have changed and there is now a fractured environment which does not allow for a unified, strategically sound, vision. I haven’t had any real impact, so now it’s time to leave.
I feel I have failed the organization. I feel we have failed the organization.
We have settled on numeric answers to the problem of inclusion, barely recognizing that this is the Industry’s problem far, far more than it is the Academy’s. Instead we react to pressure. One Governor even went as far as suggesting we don’t admit a single white male to the Academy, regardless of merit!
We have failed to the move the Oscars into the modern age, despite decades of increased competition and declining ratings. Instead we have kept to the same number of awards, which inherently means a long and boring show, and over the past decade we have nominated so many smaller independent films that the Oscars feel like they should be handed out in a tent. Big is not inherently bad and small is not inherently good. Moving into the modern age does not mean competing with the Emmys for non-theatrical features.
We have failed to solve the problems of the Museum, which is ridiculously over its initial budget and way past its original opening date. Despite having the best of the best inside the Academy membership, we have ignored the input of our Governors and our members.
We have failed our employees. Over the past seven years, we have watched dedicated employees of the Academy be driven out or leave out of frustration. Certainly, some freshening of an organization is a good thing, but that doesn’t seem the case here; this seems more like a “purge” to stifle debate and support management as opposed to the needs of the Academy.
We have failed to provide leadership. Yes, that includes the Presidency, which with a one year term creates instability, but moreover the CEO role has become much broader and far reaching, and the results are erratic at best. It also includes 54 Board of Governors, which is so large it makes decision-making difficult and makes it way too easy for the silent majority to stay silent.
Many of the problems I’m talking about come not from malfeasance but rather from the silence of too many Governors. A vocal few people are insistent that the problems are not really problems or would be too damaging to the Academy to admit. Not facing your problems means you are not addressing those issues and, guess what, problems don’t go away — they simmer under the surface and, if anything, get worse.
You can’t hide the drainage of employees, the cataclysmic decline in the Oscar ratings, the fact that no popular film has won in over a decade; that we decided to play Moral Police and most probably someone inside the Academy leaked confidential information in order to compromise the President; that the Board doesn’t feel their voice is being heard with regard to the Museum; that we have allowed the Academy to be blamed for things way beyond our control and then try to do things which are not in our purview (sexual harassment, discrimination in the Industry).
Perhaps I’m wrong about all of this and if so my resignation will simply make things better. If that’s the case, so be it. If it’s not, then I truly hope the majority of Governors will take action. Check in with our membership and get their input. If they respond as many have with me, then change the leadership of the Academy and put the Academy’s interests above any personal likes or dislikes.